COMMENTARY: Facebook just announced that it’s decided to build a brand new, $250 million data center in New Mexico.
This is tremendous news for our state. And what’s clear is that the multibillion-dollar global firm picked New Mexico not just because of available space or tax incentives but also because of another key competitive advantage: The sun.
Facebook executives had announced that the new data center must be 100 percent powered by solar or another form of renewable energy. This non-negotiable condition underscores an important fact about the future of global business and the future of New Mexico’s economy. Leading companies understand that sustainability isn’t a luxury, but a necessity. With sensible leadership, our state can parlay its massive renewable energy potential into serious economic competitiveness.
Facebook isn’t the only firm that’s prioritizing renewable energy. Leading companies including Apple, Target, Johnson & Johnson, IKEA, and Costco are seeking to power their operations with solar.
This is one reason green energy is now an issue that unites Republicans and Democrats. According to a recent study, 91 percent of Americans — including 80 percent of conservative Republicans — believe we should be speeding up our transition toward clean power as a means to protect the planet, save money, and spur innovation.
The good news is that New Mexico has a thousand times more renewable potential than we need to power all of our homes and businesses.
As the cost of solar has fallen dramatically — to half of what it was in 2008 and one one-hundredth of what it was in 1978 — our state’s generation capacity has grown tremendously. There’s now enough solar power production in our state to meet the demands of 83,000 homes. This growth has meant the addition of 1,900 new high-quality jobs across the state. It’s also created serious new savings for ratepayers and impressive increases to home values — all while reducing the air pollution and emissions caused by burning dirty fuels like coal.
Still, for New Mexico to harness the global business potential inherent in solar, we need to do more.
This year, the legislature allowed important solar tax credits to expire. This cost-effective program has enabled more than 5,500 NM households to go solar and leveraged an estimated $30 million in private investment annually. Across the country, renewables receive just a small fraction of the subsidies that fossil fuels regularly receive. By reinstating residential credits, New Mexico government can enable the state to meet its energy goals while helping residents save money.
Other key solar energy policies that support our vibrant renewable energy economy include “net metering.” With net metering, New Mexico residents can generate their own power and get credit for what they share with the local grid for others to use.
While some out-of-state interests are threatening net metering, it was made the law of the land in New Mexico by state legislators because it’s a way to ensure that homeowners and businesses who generate electricity can use it when they need it. It is also one of the key policies that encourages private investment in our energy grid. The policy is facilitating job creation in an otherwise sluggish economy.
The Legislature can support our economy and our energy future by restoring and protecting these essential programs and setting new goals — like expanding our Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).
Municipal governments can also play a crucial role. Last month, the Albuquerque City Council began consideration of a new resolution to require that the city power 25 percent of its operations with solar by 2025. This proposal is not only achievable but cost-effective. It would reduce operating expenses at the city and it would help the city gain recognition as renewable energy leader.
As the brand-new Facebook news illustrates, New Mexico’s green energy transition isn’t just about protecting the environment. It’s about strengthening our state’s economic competitiveness.
Regina Wheeler is CEO of SunPower by Positive Energy Solar. She has 20 years of experience in organizational leadership and optimizing operations. A seasoned executive manager, Regina has proven abilities to lead organizations to identify and respond to risks and opportunities, build organizational capacity, deliver products and services that meet client requirements on budget and on time, cultivate customer awareness, and achieve financial goals.